Distance and incense

Just as a crash test vehicle comes to an abrupt halt as it smashes into the brick wall, so the Christmas season is over.  Some people feel like a crash test dummy, head bopping around, still in a daze as the whirlwind subsides.

Aside from a lone aisle with clearance items, the decor in stores is pulled down as abruptly and unexpectedly as it was put up.

The Christmas station is back to the 80s, 90s and today.

There might still be Christmas leftovers in the fridge, but are they still edible? (Absolutely!)

However, for many people around the world that follow the Christian calendar, the Christmas season is not nearly over.  This is just the beginning.  The baby has been born, but there is more to come.  Much more!

Throughout December, and specifically on Christmas day, we read about an angel appearing to Mary.  Then there’s Joseph’s dream and a trek on a donkey.  In our family on this Christmas morning, our children took turns reading from the Gospel of Luke, inevitably tripping up on ‘Quirinius.’  Post-Christmas, that historical account might get put back on the shelf, awaiting its next annual review.  But it’s not quite time to re-shelve it, because. . .

Epiphany.

Celebrated on January 6, twelve days after Christmas (hence the 12 days of Christmas), for centuries this religious festival was on par with Christmas and Easter.  By the time January 6 rolls around for me, however, Christmas is usually a distant memory.  The tree has come down because it’s long-dead.  Culture co-opts the New Year with the pressure of resolutions.  Three kings?  That was so last year’s Christmas story.

An epiphany is a divine revealing.  In this case, God, who has already announced the arrival of his son to his chosen people, is revealing himself to the magi from the East – Gentiles.

These wisemen brought three gifts (the Bible doesn’t specify the number of wisemen, only the number of gifts).  These gifts were gold, incense and myrrh.

I wonder about Mary and Joseph, receiving these magi and their gifts as they sat in their humble home with their toddler.  These were rare, treasured gifts, brought at great sacrifice.  But these days they don’t seem so rare.  We may have some gold jewelry in our jewelry boxes.  Oils with frankincense or elixirs of  myrrh are now essential elements in some medicine cabinets.  We might take access to these resources for granted.  For a price, they are easily accessible.  It no longer takes a caravan of camels to bring incense from the Arabian peninsula to someone’s front door.

Several years ago my husband and I visited the region where frankincense and myrrh-producing trees are native.  I don’t regularly use incense or oils in our home, so I wasn’t interested in stocking up on the products.  However, as we waited to board our plane in the airport, we spent our few remaining rials on a bag of myrrh resin.  Associating myrrh with Christmas, I store the bag in our tote of Christmas ornaments.  Every year the scent greets me as I unwrap the ornaments to decorate the tree.  It’s still in the same duty-free bag, holding its own among the ornaments from around the world.

A recent article about frankincense sourcing caught my eye this week and I thought about the bag of resin in storage, which has increased in sentimental value as time post-purchase elapses.  As frankincense-producing trees are threatened by over-tapping, this incense may once again become rare, its price point beyond reach for the average consumer. 

Frankincense was not easily accessible when I was a child.  At Christmastime we had to imagine what it smelled like.  Old Spice?  Rose water?  Indian curry? I had no idea.  But I didn’t need to.  That wasn’t the point of Luke’s historical account.  The significance of the magi is that they came and were welcomed into Christ’s presence to worship.  They who were far off were brought near.

So, this year we’ve decided to leave the tree up through Epiphany.  (It’s still drinking water, so I think it will make it.)  And we’ll rejoice with the wisemen that the King has come.

“. . . remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”  Ephesians 2:12-18

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